School Daze

When you and your former schoolmates' views and values have drifted far apart

My old school, Wanstead High, on the fringes of East London, was one of those admirable grammar schools which provided a first-rate education for able and aspiring working-class kids, many of them from tough-minded Jewish or radical East End backgrounds (it’s now a Specialist College in the Performing Arts). It provided a ladder of opportunity for youngsters like me to reach Oxbridge or other leading universities, on merit. I am eternally grateful.

Every couple of years the surviving members of the 1951 entry class gather for a boozy buffet lunch and nostalgia-fest. Most of us have done well enough — many in teaching, public service or industry (I’m the lone journalist). There is always a lot of teasing, usually good-natured, but often pretty barbed too. This summer I was on the receiving end. No complaints — I have long enjoyed winding up former classmates. But it was the nature of the jibes  which hurt. I somehow assumed that we still had views and values in common.  

I turned up sporting a T-shirt from the Falklands. “That’s bloody aggressive,” somebody said. “After all, the Falklands belong to Argentina, don’t they?” There seemed to be general agreement. When I said pompously, “I am really shocked that people like us should support aggression by a murderous gang of drunken fascistic, and incidentally anti-Semitic, military dictators, over the democratic wishes of the islanders,” I was regarded with bemusement.

Moving rapidly on, a peacemaker asked who I wrote for now, after a decade with the Daily Mail. “A number of magazines and weeklies, including the Jewish Chronicle,” I replied. Whereupon some bright spark commented cheerfully, “Typical of you to find a publication more fascistic than the Mail.” Set aside the stupid slur on the Mail. I assume the JC’s crime was to give (very critical) support to Israel. I was shocked that a group with roots deep in the East End could so casually smear a mainstream Jewish publication for showing sympathy to the Jewish state.

Then came the killer: “I bet you voted UKIP in May.” “You bet I did,” I replied firmly, though not necessarily truthfully. 

“But it has no policies except opposition to Europe and hatred of immigrants.” Much nodding of heads.

I pointed out that my mother’s family was German. My first wife was Greek, my second wife, though British-born, was half-Indian and half-German. “As for official UKIP policies,” I continued, “here are a couple. Renationalisation of the railways — way to the left of Labour. And a grammar school in every city and every town. Just like when we went to school.”

I am genuinely fond of my schoolmates. I enjoy our get-togethers, I want to stay on the invitation list. But I would love to know how we drifted so far apart

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